By Jim Salter
FERGUSON, Mo. — The streets of Ferguson were peaceful for another night, as protests and tensions subsided in the St. Louis suburb where unrest erupted after a white police officer fatally shot an unarmed black 18-year-old.
Gov. Jay Nixon also ordered the Missouri National Guard, which arrived Monday, to withdraw after the flare-ups began to ease. Police have made only a handful of arrests in the protest area over the past two nights.
“I feel we’re making progress,” Nixon told KMOX-AM, noting that a state of emergency remained in effect in Ferguson.
About 100 people gathered Thursday evening, walking in laps near the spot where Michael Brown was shot on Aug. 9. Some were in organized groups, such as clergy members. Police said there had been seven arrests, mainly for failure to disperse. That compares with six on Wednesday night and 47 arrests the night before that — fueling hope that tensions were beginning to wane.
Several protesters continued to call for St. Louis County prosecutor Bob McCulloch to be removed from the case. Some question McCulloch’s ability to be unbiased since his father, mother and other relatives worked for St. Louis police. His father was killed while responding to a call involving a black suspect.
McCulloch reiterated Thursday that he has no intention of stepping aside, and urged Nixon to decide once and for all if he will act on the calls for his ouster. While Nixon said this week he is not asking McCulloch to recuse himself, a McCulloch aide, Ed Magee, said the governor ‘didn’t take an actual position one way or the other.”
McCulloch said in a statement that Nixon must “end this distraction” or risk a delay in resolving the investigation.
A grand jury began considering evidence this week to determine whether the officer who shot Brown, Darren Wilson, should be charged. Magee said there was no timeline for the process, but that it could take weeks.
Federal authorities have launched an independent investigation into Brown’s death, and U.S. Sen. Claire McCaskill told The Associated Press that all of the physical evidence from the case was being flown Thursday from St. Louis to the FBI forensics lab in Quantico, Virginia. The evidence includes shell casings and trajectories, blood patterns and clothing, the Missouri Democrat said.
“The only thing you have to test the credibility of eyewitnesses to a shooting like this is in fact the physical evidence,” McCaskill said. “I’m hopeful the forensic evidence will be clear and will shed a lot more light on what the facts were.”
McCaskill also announced that she will lead a Senate hearing next month to look into the militarization of local police departments after criticism of the law enforcement response to the Ferguson protests.
Authorities said before Thursday night they had arrested at least 163 people in the protest area where demonstrations have been held since Brown’s death. Data provided by St. Louis County showed that while the majority of those arrested are Missouri residents, just seven live in Ferguson. The vast majority, 128 people, were cited for failure to disperse and 21 face burglary-related charges.
In St. Louis, about 5 miles from where Brown was killed, another fatal police-involved shooting happened this week. Police released video showing a knife-wielding man saying, “Kill me now” as he moved toward two officers. The officers fired six shots each, killing 25-year-old Kajieme Powell.
St. Louis Police Chief Sam Dotson said he wanted to move quickly to make public as much information as possible. By Wednesday he had provided media with cellphone video of the shooting, the 911 call, dispatch tapes and surveillance video from a nearby store.
“I think the lessons learned from Ferguson were so crystal clear,” Dotson said.